An Australian committee will soon report back on whether to allow the deportation of under 18-year-old migrants, including New Zealanders, who commit crimes. What impact could this have on Trans-Tasman relations?
Kiwi teenagers could soon be sent back to New Zealand from Australia if convicted of a crime.
Our neighbours are considering whether to amend the law to allow the deportation of child criminals, with the possibility the age range could be lowered from 18 to 16.
Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Migration is conducting an inquiry into migrant settlement outcomes that includes the possibility of deporting youth, with submissions closing next month.
It follows a 2014 amendment to the Australian Migration Act that made it easier to cancel the visas of non-citizens if they were sentenced to jail for 12 months or more, or found guilty of child sex offences.
Since it was enacted, 886 people over 18 have been sent back to New Zealand from Australia.
The shift caused a whirlwind of negative publicity in New Zealand following tales of people stuck in limbo in Australian detention centres.
To cope with the influx the Government announced extra funding to help support the New Zealanders arriving back home, many of whom had grown up in Australia.
But that did not stop some from returning to bad habits, with a reoffending rate of more than 20 percent.
Any move to deport children back to New Zealand would likely lead to a similar uproar and raise serious questions about human rights breaches.
It has New Zealand officials worried, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) asking for information from its Australian counterparts on the possible implications for New Zealanders.
“The New Zealand Government has engaged with the Australian government on the inquiry, and has asked that the impact of any change in legislation that would lead to the deportation of New Zealander’s under 18 be carefully considered,” an MFAT spokesperson said.
“The New Zealand Government will monitor any recommendations that have the potential to affect New Zealanders.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee was in Fiji and unable to be interviewed, but in a statement he told Newsroom he was also uneasy about the possibility.
“We would be concerned about the deportation of minors so I will be asking officials to keep me updated on this issue.”
The move by Australia follows growing public unease about the rise of youth crime, particularly in Melbourne where members of the Apex gang have been linked to violent carjackings and burglaries.
Earlier this year the ABC reported that Victorian Police had referred gang associates and offenders under 18 to Border Force for consideration to have their visas cancelled.
Both the Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and the leader of the opposition Bill Shorten are supportive of the proposition.
Dutton said under current law it was “very difficult” to deport children.
“If people can make the case that there are sensible changes that should be supported, the government will support them.”
He ruled out deporting refugees to countries where they would be in harm’s way, as it would be a breach of the refugee convention.
Meanwhile, Shorten told media he was committed to an immigration policy that meant people respected Australian laws.
“The reality is that people who are not Australian citizens who come to Australia and commit serious crimes have no place in Australia.”
It is unknown what effect any law change could have on young New Zealanders in Australia and whether they could be forced to move, with or without their families.
Michael Bott, a human rights lawyer, said it was possible any move to separate children from their families or to force them to move could be a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It would also mean you were punishing a whole family for the actions of their child, but he said Australia’s track record on human rights was abysmal considering their approach to migrant detention.
“If it affects New Zealanders, it’s basically using them as second-class citizens to demonise them as part of a cheap political stunt.”